Covid-19 and gender inequality in Spain
EsadeEcPol | Policy insight
Author: Claudia Hupkau, Assistant Professor, CUNEF & Associate in the Education and Skills Programme, Centre for Economic Performance (LSE)
Research assistant: Carlos Victoria, Research economist, EsadeEcPol
|Read more insights by EsadeEcPol|
The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to be more severe than the Great Recession of the late 2000’s. The scale of change in daily life felt by millions of people currently subject to social distancing measures and quarantines is unprecedented.
Lockdowns implemented in many countries disproportionately affect service jobs (i.e. non-critical retail, hospitality and restaurants), where many workers face temporary or permanent job losses.
Other sectors have been declared critical, such as health and elderly care, and jobs in these industries are likely to experience at least short-term increases in labour demand.
The fact that many countries have closed child care centres and schools implies that as well as earnings and job losses, this crisis poses significant challenges for working parents.
Inequalities in incidence of job loss
The nature of the crisis is distinct from previous recessions, where male-dominated industries like construction or manufacturing tended to be the most severely affected .
Activity in sectors with frequent social interaction has almost completely ground to a halt, and these sectors tend to be dominated by women, like personal services and hospitality. But even if not affected directly by lockdowns, many businesses, like those in construction, have been forced to halt activity because of social distancing directives.
Using data from the Spanish Labour Force Survey (EPA, April-June 2019), Figure 1 provides a picture of the distribution of jobs from the perspective of the Covid-19 crisis. Sectors are classified into “locked-down” and “critical” according to information published by the Spanish Government . We combine the labour market data with occupation-level classifications of teleworkability from Dingel and Neiman (2020) . Jobs that fall neither into the critical nor locked-down categories are divided into teleworkable and not teleworkable.
Figure 1. Workforce composition by sex, according to Covid-19 incidence
Just over 41% of all Spanish workers are employed in critical industries, and these jobs represent about 43% and 41% of total female and male employment, respectively. We estimate that about 25% of workers are directly affected by lockdowns, but there is a substantial gender gap: 29% of women work in locked sectors, compared to 21% of men.
Both for women and for men, the majority of affected jobs are in accommodation and restaurants (35% and 36% of all affected jobs, respectively), followed by retail (23% for women, 15% for men).
Table 1. Male and female workforce distribution within sectors directly affected by lockdown
For women, 20% of locked-down jobs are in domestic services, while 21% of jobs affected by the lockdown for males are in constriction.
For the remaining 34% of workers, who are neither in critical nor locked-down industries, the impact of the crisis on job losses will depend largely on the ability to perform these jobs from home. The dominance of male workers in manufacturing and construction – with jobs that cannot be done from home – and female dominance in the education sector – where work has to a large extent moved online – explain the relatively high share of men in non-teleworkable jobs (representing 28% of all male workers, compared to only 14% of female workers).
While being able to do most tasks of a job from home does seem to provide insurance against the negative impact of social distancing measures, recent evidence from Adams-Prassl et al. (2020) for the UK shows that these workers still suffer lost earnings. The evidence also shows that overall, women are more likely to have lost their jobs since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis than men, even if they are working in comparable occupations and sectors and have the same levels of education.
Women are more likely to have lost their jobs since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis than men
Recent data on jobs in Spain shows that the sectors with the largest inter-annual drops are hospitality (-5.61%), construction (-3.79%) and other services (-2.88%), suggesting that locked-down and non-teleworkable jobs are indeed the most affected. However, some other sectors have seen year-on-year increases in jobs. These include female-dominated sectors, such as health and social care (+6.3%), agriculture (+2.19%) and professional and scientific activities (+2.14%).
All things taken together, women are likely to suffer more from industry lockdowns than men. However, the predominance of men in non-teleworkable jobs suggests that until social distancing measures are relaxed and activity in sectors such as construction and manufacturing can go back to normal, male workers will be also severely negatively affected by the crisis.
Home production and inequalities in increased childcare provision
A unique feature of the Covid-19 pandemic is the closure of all childcare facilities and schools. For about 5.45 million households with dependent children (aged 15 or below) in Spain, this has meant the addition of all education and childcare services to pre-existing home production needs.
The impact of Covid-19 on the distribution of additional home production duties depends on several factors. Household composition plays an important role. Women are more likely to raise children as lone parents than men.
In Spain, 12% of parents with dependent children are single mothers, while single fathers only represent 2%
In Spain, 12% of parents with dependent children are single mothers, while single fathers only represent 2%. Consequently, women are more likely than men to be the sole providers of the sharp increase in childcare needed during the lockdown.
Secondly, the distribution of home production depends on the working status of partners (if any), which is itself affected by the crisis. Figure 2 shows the distribution of partner status for women with dependent children. Among mothers in critical jobs, representing about one-third of the total, 10% have no partner, and 44% have a partner who also works in a critical job.
Figure 2. Couple’s job situation of mothers with dependent children, depending on whether or not the woman works in a critical sector
While other countries, such as the UK or Germany, have kept childcare facilities and schools open for workers in critical jobs, this is currently not an option in Spain . It is likely that mothers will be forced to take leaves of absence or reduce hours in order to take care of children.
The remaining 46% of women in critical jobs have a partner who is likely to be staying at home – either because he is employed in a locked-down sector (11%), cannot go to work due to social distancing (27%), or does not work at all (7%). In these households, we would expect a reversal of the home production gap, with men taking over the bulk of the increased childcare and housekeeping needs. Among mothers who are not in critical jobs and therefore largely staying at home during the lockdown, 40% have no partner at home, and so have sole responsibility for home production. The other 60% have a partner who is likely to be home, and home production is somehow shared between partners.
More than two thirds of Spanish mothers are forced to stay at home while social distancing measures are in place, either because they work in non-critical jobs or are not in work. Among them, 40% are likely to shoulder the full burden of excess home production needs during lockdown and while schools are closed, either because they do not have a partner (12%) or because their partners work in critical sectors (28%).
More than two thirds of Spanish mothers are forced to stay at home while social distancing measures are in place
According to the most recent time use survey for Spain (Encuesta del empleo del tiempo 2010), women spend an average of four hours and 14 minutes on house and family care duties, while men only spend two hours. If additional childcare duties are shared according to the base line distribution, women are likely to shoulder most. Evidence from the Great Recession by Aguiar et al. (2013) shows that women allocated a larger portion of the reduction in paid working hours to childcare and housekeeping, and given baseline patterns, this pattern is likely to be repeated in the current crisis.
Time-use data collected during the Covid-19 pandemic by Farré and Gonzalez (2020) shows that women are more likely to assume the main responsibility for most of housework and childcare, even if both parents are working throughout the quarantine.
The near total unavailability of childcare might force a substantial number of parents to give up their jobs or ask for unpaid leave. Because women are more likely to be lone parents, they are more adversely affected.
Employment interruptions for childcare have long-lasting negative consequences for female earnings
In double-earner couples, which parent reduces hours will likely depend on who is the main earner in the family, but also on gender norms and role distribution within the household.
There is evidence showing that employment interruptions for childcare have long-lasting negative consequences for female earnings due to a loss in human capital (see, for instance, Schoenberg and Lusteck, 2007).
Medium and long-term consequences
Social distancing, working from home and school closures are mostly temporary measures, and the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis discussed above may be reversed once lockdowns are lifted. In recent articles, Alon et al. (2020) and Hupkau and Petrongolo (2020) discuss the likely long-term impacts of the radical reorganisation of work and family life in the US and UK, respectively.
Firstly, telework patterns adopted during the lockdown may accelerate a pre-existing, but slowly, evolving trend towards flexible work arrangements. According to a report by Adecco Group (2020), only 7.9% of Spanish workers worked from home in the last quarter of 2019. This is low compared to other countries, like the UK, where 14% of employees work from home (CIPD, 2019).
We estimate that about 28% of Spanish jobs can be done from home
Based on employment patterns observed in the second quarter of 2019, we estimate that about 28% of Spanish jobs can be done from home, and it is possible that remote working patterns will change significantly post-Covid-19.
Remote work supply and demand varies across genders. In Spain, 30% of women are in jobs that can be done from home (including the share of teleworkable jobs in locked-down and critical jobs), against 26% of men. Due to heavier household responsibilities, women also value flexible work schedules and short commutes more than men (Mas and Pallais, 2017; Le Barbanchon et al., 2019), and thus may be more beneficially affected by remote work opportunities. Remote working provides women with the flexibility to combine work and family, but may also lead them to take higher shares of home production – especially childcare – and so reduce career progression.
In Spain, 30% of women are in jobs that can be done from home
Secondly, increased home production needs may substantially shift the allocation of childcare and housekeeping in households in which the husband is forced to stay at home by the lockdown. We estimate that in about 13% of Spanish two-parent households with dependent children, fathers will become the main providers of childcare because they are forced to stay at home and their partners work in critical jobs.
Such a "forced" change in gender roles may have permanent consequences beyond short-term circumstances for the affected families, by accelerating the evolution of norms and eroding gender comparative advantages.
But for 31% of households with dependent children, mothers are likely to shoulder the majority of additional childcare needs, either because they don’t have a partner, or because their partners work in critical jobs.
For 13% of households with dependent children – where both partners work in critical jobs – it is not clear how childcare needs can be met given the absence of formal childcare provision.
Policy responses to mitigate inequalities
In terms of policy responses to mitigate these inequalities, a first step should consist in offering timely cash transfers to all vulnerable households. Spain has already taken steps in this direction, but current proposals are likely not reaching the population in need in a timely manner.
Secondly, a careful reconsideration of the costs and benefits of reopening schools and childcare facilities seems necessary for workers with critical jobs that cannot be performed from home (for example, in the health and distribution sectors) to avoid these workers needing to take leaves of absence or resigning. This would avoid career interruptions, which have been shown to have negative long-term consequences for job and income security (Stevens, 1997).
In particular, a fine-tuned comparison of the decreasing effect of the contagion rate for two public policy options is appropriate: the current policy with completely closed schools, and an alternative policy in which strictly controlled access is allowed for children from families who have no other option (in particular, workers in critical sectors who cannot obtain paid leave). These conditions should be based on the availability of diagnostic tests for the families of these workers: not only because it is necessary to provide the maximum guarantees for health and safety, but because as individuals highly exposed to contagion, they are also potential carriers for the epidemic.
Lastly, it would be a good idea to encourage teleworking in as many jobs as possible, while introducing mechanisms that ensure a balanced advancement for both genders. In the current context, the development would especially be desirable for couples working on the frontline. In the medium and long term, this could even have a positive collateral effect in the distribution of tasks within the home if teleworking rates increase for men.
- Adams-Prassl, A.; Boneva, T.; Golin, M.; Rauh, C. (2020). Inequality in the impact of the coronavirus shock: Evidence from real-time surveys. Mimeo.
- Adecco Group Institute (2020). Monitor Adecco de Oportunidades y Satisfacción en el Empleo II: Galicia, Extremadura y Cataluña, las autonomías que más apuestan por el teletrabajo. Access date: 19.04.2020.
- Aguiar, M.; Hurst, E.; Karabarbounis, L. (2013). Time use during the Great Recession. American Economic Review, 103: 1664-1696.
- Alon, T.; Doepke, M.; Olmstead-Rumsey, J.; Tertilt, M. (2020): The impact of Covid-19 on gender equality. NBER Working Paper Nbr. 26947.
- Bell, B.; Bloom, N.; Blundell, J.; Pistaferri, L. (2020). Prepare for large wage cuts if you are younger and work in a small firm. VoxEU.
- CIPD (2019): Megatrends: Flexible working.
- Dingel, J.; Neiman, B. (2020): How many jobs can be done at home? NBER Working Paper Nbr. 26948.
- Farré, L. & L. González (2020). ¿Quién se encarga de las tareas domésticas durante el confinamiento? Covid-19, mercado de trabajo y uso del tiempo en el hogar.” Nada es Gratis, 23 April 2020.
- Hupkau, C. & B. Petrongolo (2020). Covid-19 and gender gaps: Latest evidence and lessons from the UK. VoxEu.org, 22. April 2020.
- Le Barbanchon, T.; Rathelot, R.; Roulet, A. (2019). Gender differences in job search: Trading off commute against wage. Mimeo.
- Mas, A.; Pallais, A. (2017). Valuing Alternative Work Arrangements. American Economic Review, 107: 3288-3319.
- Schönberg, Uta; Ludsteck, Johannes (2007). Maternity leave legislation, female labour supply, and the family wage gap. IZA Discussion Paper Nbr. 2699. March.
- Stevens, Ann Huff (1997). Persistent effects of job displacement: The importance of multiple job losses. Journal of Labor Economics, 15(1): 165-188.
 See Alon et al. (2020), Adam-Prassl et al. (2020) and Bell et al. (2020) for recent work on Covid-19 impacts on gender inequalities and low-wage labour markets. Libertad Gonzales (2020) provides an initial discussion of the potential effect of the Covid-19 crisis on gender equality in Spain.
 See notes N1 and N2 for details on the classification of sectors into "critical" and "locked-down".
 See note N3 for details on how occupations are classified into teleworkable and not teleworkable.
 See for instance the Guidelines published by the UK Government about childcare and school provision for workers in critical jobs.
N1. Activities considered as "critical" (2 or 3-digit Spanish national classification of economic activity codes in brackets): Agriculture, livestock, hunting and related services (01); Forestry (02); Fishing and agriculture (03); Food industry (10); Beverage production (11); Graphic arts and related services (181); Coke and petroleum refining (19); Chemical industry (20); Pharmaceutical manufacturing (21); Rubber and plastics manufacturing (22); Supply of electrical energy; gas; steam and air conditioning (35); Water management, purification and distribution (36); Wastewater management and treatment (37); Waste collection, treatment, recovery, and disposal (38); Distribution (461); Wholesale agricultural raw materials and live animals (462); Wholesale distribution of food, beverages, and tobacco (463); Wholesale distribution of articles of domestic use (464); Wholesale distribution of equipment for information and communication technologies (465); Wholesale distribution of other machinery, equipment, and supplies (466); Other specialised wholesale distributions (467); Retail distribution of food, beverages, and tobacco products in specialised outlets (472); Retail distribution of automotive fuel in specialised outlets (473); Freight transport by rail (492); Freight transport by road and services (494); Pipeline transport (495); Sea freight transport (502); Freight transport by inland waterways (504); Air and space freight transport (512); Storage and transport-related activities (52); Postal activities (53); Books, newspapers, and other publishing activities (581); Radio, television, and broadcasting activities (60); Telecommunications (61); Programming, consulting, and other computer-related activities (62); Information services (63); Financial services, except insurance and pension funds (64) Insurance, reinsurance, pension funds, except social security (65); Financial services and insurance auxiliary activities (66); Legal services (691); Research and experimental development in natural and technical sciences (721); Veterinary services (75); Employment-related activities (78); Security and investigation activities (80); Buildings and facility services (811); Cleaning activities (812); Other business support activities (829); Public administration and defence, social security (84); Health activities (86); Assistance in residential establishments (87); Social services without accommodation (88); Computer and communication equipment repair (951).
N2. Activities considered as "locked-down" (2 or 3-digit Spanish national classification of economic activity codes in brackets): Electrical, plumbing, and other activities on construction sites (432); Building works (433); Retail distribution of other household goods in specialised outlets (475); Retail distribution of cultural and recreational articles in specialised outlets (476); Retail distribution of other articles in specialised outlets (477); Retail in stalls and street markets (478); Retail distribution not carried out in outlets, stalls, or markets (479); Other land passenger transport (493); Sea passenger transport (501); Passenger transport by inland waterways (503); Air passenger transport (511); Accommodation services (55); Food and beverage services (56); Travel agencies, tourism operators, reservation services, and related activities (79); Creative, artistic, and entertainment activities (90); Libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural activities (91); Gambling and betting activities ( 92); Sports, recreational, and entertainment activities (93); Other personal services (96); Household activities such as employers of domestic personnel (97).
N3. Construction of the teleworkability index. The indicator of teleworkability is based on analysis of occupational descriptions in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) by Dingel and Neiman (2020). Occupations are classified as not teleworkable if they require, for instance, daily work outdoors or operating vehicles. See Dingel and Neiman (2020) for more information. We map the occupation-level teleworkability index to Spanish occupational classification CNO 2011 on the 3-digit level using multiple crosswalks (from O*NET to US SOC2010 to ISCO08 to CNO2011 classifications). Since there is no one-to-one match between O*NET occupations and Spanish CNO2011 classifications, we manually checked the final teleworkability index obtained.
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